Thursday, August 6, 2015

What Christie Needs To Do In Tonight's Debate

What can Governor Chris Christie do?

Better yet, what must Chris Christie do to break out of the pack. How does he stand out in Thursday night’s free-for-all, aka the Fox Republican Presidential Debate?

It’s really simpler than you might suppose. Christie need only remember three of the most important letters in advertising: USP.

If you want to move a product in a large, competitive marketplace, you’ve gotta have a USP.

Look at it this way: There are nine other candidates on the stage (and seven more who aren’t there but who’ve made their arguments earlier) who are trying to sell pretty much the same product that you’re selling. To stand out, you must have a Unique Selling Proposition. You must have a USP.

Simply put, what is it about you that makes you different from all the others? What makes you unique, special, attractive, and buyable? What makes you, you?

To be sure, there’s nothing imitative about Chris Christie. His brand has always been quite distinct. Three things have defined it: his brashness, his pragmatic ability to get things done and his passion. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly and he’s not afraid of a fight. But he’ll do what he has to do (and compromise if necessary) to accomplish his goals. Through it all, he exhibits a healthy passion for people and politics.

But there are other GOP candidates (most notably Donald Trump) who are brash. And there are other governors on the stage (most notably Kasich and Walker) who have reached across the aisle to get things done. As for passion, look no further than Dr. Ben Carson or Tom Cruz.

So, where’s all this leave Christie?

What’s his USP going into Thursday night? C’mon, you know Christie’s not gonna blow this. He’s gotta have -- and he’s gonna have -- a USP.

Here it is: Mastery of the facts and the issues.

Christie must be the undisputed champ when it comes to the revealing facts and important issues in this debate. And he must do it in a manner that makes him seem presidential without being officious or condescending.

That can be a fine line.

But Christie can do this. He’s shown that he can do this in countless Town Hall meetings throughout New Jersey, Iowa and New Hampshire. He’s really good on his feet and he can zero in on an issue and chomp away at it quickly and succinctly with just a few pertinent facts.

No, he shouldn’t be a statistic machine like Ross Perot was in 1992. That’s what killed Perot. Perot didn’t understand that statistics are like bikinis -- what they reveal is enticing but what they conceal is vital.

And no, Christie should not be a wonk like Dukakis was in 1988. Dukakis was so into his issues book that he always missed the big picture – and that included a photo of him that looked positively ridiculous in an army tank.

But Christie is neither of those. He’s not a graph-totting CEO nor a wonkish bean-counter.

Instead, he’s the one man on the stage who can identify the issue, make the argument, back it up with cogent facts and make it meaningful and understandable to ordinary people. That’s what he does best. That’s his USP. On Thursday evening he’ll have to activate that USP quickly and effectively.

Christie is a crisp, laser-like relevance machine.

My theory is that this is a natural talent of his which was honed and perfected during his time as a prosecutor.

Mastering the facts and the issues. Making them come alive.

This is who Christie is. This is what he does best. For him, this is back to basics – but on steroids.

My advice?

Go for it, Gov!

Note: This commentary originally appeared on Matt Rooney's widely-read Save Jersey Blog.

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